PREMIERE: Toronto’s Crossword Is Grinding Overtime

Overtime

We want to feel like we’ve made a difference. Because that’s what music does. That feeling is more than any hourly rate that anyone could pay me to help them fulfill their dream.

Today, Toronto emcee Crossword debuts his new single “Overtime,” along with the visuals for his latest offering off the upcoming album XW, out later this spring. Continuing to add to his already established repertoire of witty wordplay and passionate delivery, Crossword celebrates the highs and lows of the Canadian artist’s journey on “Overtime”, with the help of his in-house producer Justunlimited on the boards and Rusholme Productions behind the camera credits.

Whether you are aware of it or not, Crossword has been neck-deep in the Toronto community for years, establishing himself as a staple character among the inner-city’s hip-hop scene as a solo artist, promoter, member of the award-winning hip-hop-funk-rock band Vibonics and as just a fan of what Toronto is capable of. But after years of helping build the community into what it is today, the notable artist is ready to release his solo work, constructed by the lessons the industry has taught him.

XW, a self-titled play on Crossword, is produced entirely by the Toronto artist’s in-house producer Justunlimited, mixed in Toronto by Fresh Kils, and mastered in Los Angeles by Mike Bozzi, known as the mastering engineer for Kendrick, ScHoolboy, YG, etc. Watch the video for “Overtime,” prepare for XW out later this spring and read Crossword’s exclusive interview with One Woman Army.

On Skype, over a bowl of Fruit Loops, Crossword opens up about taking risks, what he’s learned and what’s to come from XW. And it’s something to pay attention to.

Recently you made the decision to quit your job and focus on music full-time. That’s a big change and huge risk for any creative. Tell me about that decision.

I was working full time construction last year and I was making good money. I was doing music on the side and funneling all my money into music and I was hating it. I was depressed and questioning everything. I didn’t want to be there and it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I just said, fuck it. What I want to do is be on the road. As soon as my two weeks were up, the next day I was on the road. I went on a road trip and linked up with a bunch of people I know in the States and made some music. I’m just focused on my music and myself. Since I’ve come back, that’s what I do now. I work on music. I put on shows. And this is me now.

So what does being a fulltime musician now look and feel like to you?

It literally feels like everything I do is productive. It feels like everything I do is a piece of the puzzle and a step in the right direction. Even making a phone call is productive. The other day, I was on the phone with my boy from Montreal and at the very end, we started talking about what we can do for each other and we started talking about options of running a tour through Montreal. Everything is an option now. I love the feeling that my life is going somewhere. Because that’s what we do music for. And that’s why we’re around music. We want to feel like we’ve made a difference. Because that’s what music does. It makes a difference in people’s lives at the end of the day. Music is way more than a job. You can’t quantify it. You can’t measure it and say “oh, we yielded more music than corn this year.” It’s all intangible but it makes a difference. That feeling is more than any hourly rate that anyone could pay me to help them fulfill their dream.

Speaking of making a difference, let’s start at the beginning. A lot of people may not know that you’ve been neck deep in this industry for years as a solo artist, you were in a band, you’ve helped put on shows and were involved in The Cypher. Do you want to talk about that journey and what has led you here as you get ready to drop your XW album?

I started writing when I was 13. I know it sounds stereotypical, but I had a run-in with the law and that really pissed me off. It showed me how unjust the system is. I was in trouble, but at the same time, all I was thinking about was how bullshit it was. I started writing about that and other things. I was in college and I started going to open mics and hosting open mics and I was like, “you know what? I can do this shit” I then started performing. My entire first year in the scene was ’08, doing open mics. I had this idea for a mock-tour t-shirt for the end of the year to list every single open mic that I did out there, as just as a joke thing. But that was my first tour. That’s where I cut my teeth. I cut my teeth in Scarborough at the Lion Gate Lounge for Rock Da Mic Tuesdays. And then I started doing my own shows. The Kid Famous was my first headliner. That was back in October ’08 when I did not know what I was doing. There was like 40 people there at my first show, including my parents. But we did another one two months later and it was rammed. It was sold out. From that, I got my performance experience and the years prior, I got my writing experience. All that was formative. The band, Vibonics put me into a whole other echelon of experience. I went touring with them, I composed songs with them. I found my voice with Vibonics.

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But Vibonics is no more?

It ran its course. We put out two EPs. We really believed in them, but they didn’t go where we thought they would go. And at the same time, I don’t know if Toronto was ready for a live band at that time. I don’t know if Toronto still is. We did a show with Stalley and I read a review on the show and this guy was saying like, “only in Toronto do you see a live band with a rapper,” which also relates to Toronto’s inferiority complex and need to do everything by a fucking manual. I feel like that’s how we were received. Maybe people got stuck on “they’re a band.” And I think live-band hip-hop has a reputation as ‘a rapper that doesn’t have the chops.’ But we were trying to break that mold. I can rap, she can sing, he can play the guitar. We were all at the top of our game. You do that for two albums, four years and it takes its toll. But I have absolutely no regrets from my time with Vibonics. I toured. I saw the Yukon.

So, taking everything you’ve learned from the band and your past, how has that molded you into the Crossword we’re listening to now? What can we expect from this upcoming album?

I’m a guy that wants to change the world and have fun doing it. You’ll hear me talking politics, you’ll hear me talking about relationship issues, social issues and all that stuff and then I’ll turn around and make fun of myself. I don’t want to take myself too serious. I love Immortal Technique, but sometimes, him and artists of that nature can get a little preachy. I’m not the extreme. I’m halfway in between. I like listening to a Common song and go ham to a Rae Sremmurd song.

We’re premiering your “Overtime” single and video today. Tell me about the single and what it represents for you.

“Overtime” is about going through a lot and seeing it for what it is, overcoming it and letting it go. I talk about the good times and the bad times that I’ve been through. I’ve been on both sides of the story and all that matters is how you handle it. In the verses, I talk about going through all this bullshit, having people try to sell you shit and control you or bully you but at the end of the day, you come through it and you’re stronger and then you just don’t give a fuck. When I say “eff you to the mass appeal,” that’s exactly what I mean. I don’t mean mainstream media, I mean say eff you to what people think of you. They don’t know what you’ve been through. You’ve been through the highs, you’ve been through the lows. They don’t know you. That’s what “Overtime” is all about.

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